Transport Canada to study Hyperloop technology

Transport Canada wants to study the potential of hyperloop technology, a futuristic mode of high speed transportation envisioned by eccentric billionaire Elon Musk.

The department put out a tender on March 27 asking for bids on a feasibility study of hyperloop technology, which proponents see as the future for land-based transportation that uses a pod to go through a system of tubes at airplane speeds. Experts have disagreed on whether the ambitious proposal can ever be commercially adopted.

According to the notice published on the federal government’s procurement website, Transport Canada wants to evaluate whether the hyperloop can be transformed into a “viable technology that is safe for passengers and the communities where the tubes traverse.”

The department also wants to see whether the cost of such technology is “comparable or significantly more affordable” than conventional high-speed or magnetic rail.

The scope of the study would also include examining its potential as an “intercity transporter,” as well as whether regulatory oversight of such technology can be performed within existing rules for rail and aviation. Use as freight transportation and safety concerns around terrorism would also be studied.

The tender acknowledges the hyperloop idea is very new and information on specifications, performance and costs are limited. Current concepts also show a limited capacity of up to 40 passengers per pod, making it harder to compete with commercial aviation.

“The Hyperloop technology is not yet proven,” the tender reads. “The advantages of the Hyperloop system have not been tested in real world applications.”

While the hyperloop draws upon early 20th century concepts, the idea became well-known after Musk put out a paper in 2013 detailing his vision of using pressurized capsules running along a network of vacuum-like tubes.

Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, also made his proposal “open-sourced” and other companies such as Toronto-based TransPod have picked up the idea. The company is proposing an elevated network of tubes that would see pods travelling at 1,000 kilometres per hour.

A link between Montreal and Toronto at that speed would mean only a 45-minute commute. The company estimates the cost of such infrastructure would be $15 billion excluding purchase of land.

However, the Canadian firm threatened to relocate its headquarters to Europe last year, saying it needed political support in Canada.

TransPod has offices and investors in Europe, where it receives financial support from the EU to develop subsystems in Italy. The company also has a three-kilometre testing track under construction in France.

Sebastien Gendron, CEO of TransPod, said the study is the first public signal that the Canadian government is interested in the technology.

“To be honest, it’s really good news. We’ve been pushing for that for three years now,” he said.

While his company has moved some research and development activity to Europe, he said his company will maintain a footprint in Canada and wants to do more work here.

He also said he’s asked for Transport Canada to join a working group exploring the technology started by the EU. He said hyperloop technology can eventually offset short-haul flights in Canada as growing air traffic crowds airports in coming years.

In a statement, Transport Canada spokesperson Simon Rivet said his department has a “key role” to play in understanding the impact of emerging and disruptive technologies in Canada’s transportation system.

He said the federal government is “working to modernize its transportation sector through updated regulations, investments in infrastructure, and the promotion of new transportation technologies.” He would not reveal the cost of the contract, as it is ongoing.

The federal government also provided the University of Ontario Institute of Technology $50,000 for two studies last July, one of which was on an electrified “levitation and propulsion system” for a hyperloop pod.

The commercial feasibility of the hyperloop concept was studied by NASA and the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2016, which highlighted a number of barriers and issues requiring further research.

Hyperloop projects have received considerable investment support, with a company founded by billionaire Richard Branson receiving almost $300 million in funding. The U.S. also announced a new council this month aimed at exploring regulating the technology in the country.

Source: ipolitics.ca

Author: Jolson Lim